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  • Writer's pictureDavid Brooks, Ph.D.


Work backwards from all goals - Post #5 of 21

Chess Students Informing the College Admission Process

As little squirming children, all three of my kids sat on my lap as I read many fun books to them. One favorite was The Princess Bride, whose climax (spoiler alert!) centered on the fact that Wesley was able to defeat the smartest man in the world in a poison-choosing contest because Wesley cheated: our hero did not care which cup he chose, because he had spent years and years building up a tolerance and immunity to iocane poison! The villain did not make it into his dream school or even five seconds after drinking, but Wesley did. My kids silently learned the lesson: our hero came into an impossible situation fully prepared, so that losing was not even a possibility. That is the secret to an exciting and delightful senior year April when the college acceptance letters are emailed to your child and all their friends.

With February of my third child’s eighth-grade year right around the corner, `tis definitely the season: course selection cards are poised to be distributed! For the uninitiated, these cards are the official request by high schools for an eighth-grader to select the courses they will enroll in during their upcoming freshman year. These course selections are what will ultimately determine how colleges view each applicant, so the completion of these cards is tantamount to determining which universities will offer admission to your child in four years, and which will not.

So the stakes could not be higher, and for the first time in my life, I am in the comfortable position of knowing that the previous two times that my child and I completed these course selection cards, we chose courses wisely enough, and prepared thoroughly enough, to ultimately get an offer of college admission from Georgetown University, which was the dream school of my two oldest kids. Which dream school is your child’s actual dream school is utterly irrelevant! Preparing for one dream school is equivalent to preparing for them all, and also equivalent to preparing for a monster scholarship to a state school. Conveniently for me, because Georgetown is now the dream school of my rising freshman as well, the completion of the impending course selection card for us in the Brooks family is absolutely rote: child three will take the exact same impossibly-demanding courses that child one and two underwent and ultimately aced.

Importantly, child number three also experienced the same preparatory childhood activities and intellectually stimulations that the older siblings did. That means that my rising freshman is developmentally ready and braced for the four-year gauntlet that she is about to begin. If over the fourteen years leading up to high school your child has not built up incredible intellectual muscles in preparation for an all-honors curriculum at a highly-esteemed high school, then your child should not ever be asked to shoulder this battleship. My third child, has been bracing and preparing for over ten years. In our family we understand that the eighth grade report card means absolutely nothing, and the ninth-grade report card means absolutely everything, and we make all our vacation and life decisions based on this belief.

Below is an itemization of exactly what experiences my wife and I intentionally generated in order to produce a very deliberately-enriched childhood for each of our three children. Our kids loved their childhoods, and they have expressed that they plan to embrace a very similar philosophy of child-rearing. So now that all three of my kids are adults or in their teens, and their childhoods are behind them, I feel confident that their engineered childhood with the unwavering goal of intellectual and psychological enrichment was definitely a good idea.

This blog post is a roadmap of the specific details—in timeline form—of what my kids experienced in order to steel them for their impending rigorous freshman schedule:

Ages 0-12.

Step 1: Read to the child voraciously.

Step 2: Monitor, detect, and accommodate any special needs.

Step 3: Immerse your child in a logic-based critical thinking program like The Knight School after school chess program. Five years is optimal.

Step 4: Stimulate and enrich and vary your child’s environment with a passion. Preschool chess class is ideal.

Step 5: Acclimate your child to the certainty of attending their dream school; get them on your team with college visits, etc. Pick that dream school and shoot for it! Then surround them with like-minded kids who will not change your child’s mind/suggest bad paths. The Knight School’s fun chess tournaments for kids and chess summer camp are ideal for this, or something comparable.

Step 6: Inundate your child with intellectually-stimulating experiences such as frequent treasure hunts, frequent travel, frequent trips to science and art and all museums, dance and singing and drama and flute and violin and frequent trips to six flags, chess for kids, the zoo, on a train, everywhere! Allow the child to accumulate life experiences and to see the world from new perspectives as much as possible.

Step 7: Make sure your child continues to read voraciously. My third child only got in trouble one time at school: repeatedly, after many warnings, being sent to the office for reading in carpool. She was sent by the school librarian.

Sixth Grade School Year.

Step 8: Begin taking one of the four The Day School Academic blocks on Tuesday afternoons, or something comparable.

Preschool Chess Students Excited for Chess Class

Seventh Grade School Year.

Step 9: Select courses so that high school prerequisites are met: debate, languages, math, etc.

Step 10: Make sure your child continues to read voraciously.

Eighth Grade School Year.

Step 11: Take at least two honors courses, but remember to avoid bad teachers who assign mindless busywork. Ask on Social Media.

Step 12: Conclude the third and fourth The Day School Academic Blocks, or something comparable.

Step 13: Make all A's and generate a massive momentum for hitting the wall of high school in the fall.

Step 14: Impress your teachers since in February they have to sign/authorize your rare, all-honors freshman course card.

Step 15: Put into place your math, science, English, etc. tutor and have that locked down. You may need this, you may not.

Step 16: Fill out the January Freshman Course selection card like a boss: All honors, nothing else.

Academic student project

Freshman Year of High School.

Step 17: Take your six honors courses and make all A's. That means taking an honors elective like debate if possible. If prerequisites to upper-level honors courses are not honors courses, that is fine, as in the case of Spanish 2 (above), for which no honors was allowed, so none was taken. Note this non-honors Spanish 2 course did not hurt the class rank since all kids were equally subject to this limitation. It also paved the way for honors Spanish 3, 4, and 5 the next three years.

Step 18: Befriend the high school college counselor and tell them your plans.

Step 19: Try to start a chess team or found some other club at your school or in your community.

Step 20: Complete the 5 freshman graduation requirements for The Day School or some comparable extracurricular academic program.

Sophomore Year of High School.

Step 21: Make all A's in all honors courses.

Step 22: Cultivate your four passions so your college application can see that you have passions. Try to interconnect these passions so they are related somehow, into one coherent cool picture of a desirable student.

Step 23: Summers before and after should be filled with volunteer hours, your new program you build, internships, or a college program or course.

Step 24: "Awards and Honors" section of the college admissions applications you will complete in October of your senior year must be satisfied.

Step 25: Community Service section must be satisfied.

Step 26: Work experience section must be populated. Finding an intellectually stimulating job or internship is ideal.

Step 27: Extracurricular activity section must be populated.

Step 28: Career plans must be determined to apply to the correct college within your dream university. To break a tie or if unknown, choose the college easiest to get into/least in demand at your university. You can always transfer/change your mind once admitted.

Step 29: Choose summer plans in order to make sure you are building experiences that can populate four impressive college essays.

Junior Year of High School.

Step 30: Take all honors courses and make all A's.

Step 31: Spend the fall writing and rewriting your college essays and having people proofread these and give impressions.

Step 32: Take one ACT prep class in the fall, and then a second different one that ends right before your first test date in February.

Step 33: Cultivate fantastic relationships with honors English teacher, since they will be writing your recommendation in the senior year.

Step 34: Cultivate a fantastic relationship with your high school college admission counselor since they will be writing your required guidance counselor recommendation in the senior year.

Step 35: Take four ACTs in spring and summer. Before that, you have not learned all the math. After that, you miss the Nov 1 early decision deadline at most prestigious colleges since the ACT takes 8 weeks to receive your scores. Take fewer if your make a 34 or higher on one of the first three tries.

Step 36: Only take the specific ACT subject tests whose scores you need to improve on. While colleges still look at the SAT also, it does not help to take both, so I just concentrate on the perfection of one, and the ACT seems more approachable to me.

Senior Year of High School.

Step 37: Switch from having one dream school to twelve. Apply to twelve schools, one of which should be a safety school. Fun fact: my oldest switched dream schools in her senior year from Berkeley to Georgetown, and was admitted to both.

Step 38: November 1 is deadline for early decision of your dreamiest school.

Step 39: Prepare to spend all of Christmas applying to your twelve schools if your early decision school waitlists/rejects you, which is common, and which happened to my second child.

Step 40: Save up money because at $70 each, twelve dream school college applications is $840.

Step 41: Apply to be a chess coach at schools near your dream school or in some other way put down roots in that city.

Step 42: Take all honors courses: no coasting! This is the great separator; elite schools cannot see your grades yet, so the course selection is all they see. Being able to say you took 20 AP/Honors courses is stellar; their algorithms which are generating the percentage of AP courses you took versus the total offered at your school do not care if you have senioritis.

Step 43: You intentionally waited and NEVER too your non-honors classes before senior year. Now, take all required non-honors courses, such as PE, health, career prep, etc. This delay of non-honors inflates your GPA when the early decision school looks at your transcript in October of your senior tear. Do this because your early admission dream school in October cannot see senior year grades/GPA at all, and all others have a Jan 10 application deadline so they will only see a GPA sagged down half-way any a half-year on non-honors As. If possible take any one-semester non-honors course the second semester, rather than the first, so that your GPA is inflated.

Step 44: Once you are accepted, stop trying in school! Making a B or two will not preclude acceptance once you are in. But don’t drop below that, even though at that point you are a machine and almost physically cannot stop the A Train.

University of Georgetown - Importance of University Degrees

The above timeline is only the most preliminary sketch of when to do what. I blurred the details in order to give you a bird’s eye view of the entire comprehensive process. The details of each phase will be fleshed out in the posts to come. But for now, preparing an enriched environment for your child begins yesterday, so enjoy!


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